Today's extract comes from the Baptist Anne Wilkinson-Hayes as she reflects on the Lord's Supper in light of the work of Alan and Eleanor Kreider.
"Oh by the way," concluded the worship leader at the end of the service I was visiting, "There's communion on the tables at the back - help yourself on the way out ... if you want." I was stunned, and all the more the fact that everyone around me seemed to accept this statement as normal. But was it any worse than the service I attended on a freezing cold Christmas Eve in a beautiful twelfth-century building, where the liturgy was pared down to the absolute minimum, conducted at speed and with all the soul of a fast-food outlet, without even the perfunctory "Have a nice day"?
What have we don etc the expression of sharing the Lord's Supper that makes it such a pale shadow of the Kreiders' aspiration to 'joyful communal thanksgiving'?
I have had good experiences of communion. The church were I was a member in Australia had an unusually rich liturgical life for a Baptist church. The Eucharist was very much the focus and climax of the beautiful liturgy, but the lengthy service was not for the faint-hearted; if often lasted well over two hours. Occasionally, toward the end of a particularly demanding marathon, I was reminded of one of Alan and Ellie's stories from the London Mennonite Centre. They were enjoying a carefully constructed, thoughtful communion service, and a 'gentleman of the road' was shuffling around at the back, becoming more agitated, until he eventually exclaimed, "For God's sake, cut the crap and give us some !@#$% bread!"
Probably my best experiences remain those in my university days - when charismatic renewal was sweeping the churches of all theological persuasions. I attended a packed high Anglican church where we all sensed that we were caught up together in a new movement of God. I was joyously swept up to the altar by a passionate singing of the Gloria and softly returned with the strains of 'Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world ...' It felt as though something momentous was happening among us - that God was present, and together we were being lovingly shaped for service.
Sadly, that was thirty years ago, and I have participated in or led communion services in hundreds of churches of different denominations since then, and so rarely ever have a similar sense of joyful communal thanksgiving. Why not? And does it matter? Is the sharing of communion essential to a life of committed discipleship? Eleanor believes so. She writes, 'Churches will be renewed when the Lord's Supper, graced by God's presence and Word, orientated to the living Lord and empowered by the Spirit, is fully restored to the place that it had in the early centuries - as the central communal Christian act of worship.'
Anne Wilkinson-Hayes, 'Communion: Renew the Covenant' in Forming Christian Habits in Post-Christendom: The Legacy of Alan and Eleanor Kreider edited by James R. Krabill and Stuart Murray (Herald, 2011), pp.170-171.